Moving Toward Wisdom
The last chapter of Don and Russ’s book Personality Types.
To face the world and the terrifying insecurity of human existence naked and defenseless seems like an overwhelming situation for anyone to be in. Each person’s ego attempts to buffer itself from the full realization of the insecurity of its existence in different ways. Each type adopts different strategies for inflating the ego as a defense against being insecure and alone.
The paradox is that our ego cannot exist without defending itself from the full awareness of existence. Our personality is threatened by the mystery of our existence whether we affirm it in hope or recoil from it in despair. And yet, as we have seen in the descriptions, if each of the personality types pushes its defenses to an extreme, it brings destruction upon itself. Indeed, the life of the personality seems tenuous at best and always seems to be in danger of being destroyed by something. Too much openness to life and it runs the risk of being overwhelmed, too little, and it destroys itself from within. Too much freedom is as threatening to it as no freedom at all. When all is said and done, existential anxiety may be the proper response for beings who are aware of their own mortality. Like Moses before the burning bush, we quake with terror in the realization that we ultimately stand before the vastness of being.
There seems to be only one way out of the conundrum: to hope to find a meaning for our lives, a meaning that connects with something real beyond the concerns of our personality.
However, we are in the insoluble position of trying to find a meaning for our lives without being able to know our lives as a whole. There is no way to know with certainty what that meaning is without being able to step outside of the entirety of our life to find its ultimate context. Being able to step outside of our existence will happen at the moment of death, when this life has come to an end. If we still exist in some form beyond that moment, we will know whether our life has had meaning—and what that meaning is. So much of the mystery and tragedy of existence comes about because we cannot know with certainty what our life means before that decisive moment.
Although the ultimate meaning of life is mysterious, it affects every moment that we live. What we believe about the meaning of life influences what we value and every choice we make. In considering these realities, we move from the psychological to the metaphysical where the human context ultimately will or will not have meaning. It may be that human existence is absurd and meaningless because there is only the endless recycling of matter and energy in an indifferent universe. Or it may be that the ultimate context of human life is personal and that there is a God whose existence is the reason for our own. Or it may be that there may be a divine intelligence that in its ultimate nature is not personal in any way that we would recognize. For most of us, the ultimate nature of the universe and the existence or non-existence of a personal God are beyond our personality’s ability to know. This is why the meaning of life always involves "faith," whether we call it that or not.
In the absence of a direct experience of our own nature and of divinity, we must rely on beliefs. Mystics of various spiritual traditions insist that such direct knowledge is possible but that it requires that we transcend our personalities. If we do not have these more direct experiences of our True Nature which form the foundation of faith, then we must have “faith” in something else. Because we cannot live without meaning, without reference to something outside ourselves, we inevitably create idols as substitutes for faith in the transcendent and the meaning which it supplies.
Of course, the supreme and universal idol is pride, the ego inflating itself, attempting to be the cause of its own being, attempting to find its own meaning within its own resources. Pride sees no reason to look beyond itself to look for help, for guidance, and for identity. It is satisfied with itself. Each of the personality types is tempted toward a particular form of pride as a way of defending itself against the anxieties involved in its existence. The Nine's temptation is to believe that its tranquillity is an ultimate value, the Eight's is to believe in its own strength and will, the Seven's is to believe that it will find fulfillment by in exciting experiences, the Six's is to believe that they can create ultimate security for themselves, the Five's is to believe in knowledge as a source of power, the Four's is to believe that all of its feelings are significant, the Three's is to believe in its own excellence, the Two's is to believe in its own indispensability, and the One's temptation is to believe in its own righteousness. While these temptations are characteristic of each of the personality types, they are all our own temptations, too.
If there is a theme in this book, or a lesson to be learned by studying the personality types, it is that while we legitimately look for happiness by seeking our personal fulfillment, we often seek it wrongly. Every personality type creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, bringing about the very thing it most fears while losing what it most desires as it looks for happiness. If, when we search for happiness, we inflate our ego at the expense of recognizing our authentic Self, we may be sure of failing in our search. The pursuit of identity, security, and happiness without reference to our essential spiritual nature leads us into a maze of apparent goods, false goods, and idols. Our True Nature exists only now, in this very moment. It includes all of the concerns and motivations of our personality while also transcending all of them. It is not so much that we do not see who we are as much as that we see only a small part of who we are. We are blinded to the fullness and magnificence of our ultimate nature by the trance of our personality. Each personality type contains within itself a source of self-deception which, if played into, invariably leads us away from the direction of our real fulfillment and deepest happiness. This is an irrevocable law of the psyche, something of which we must become convinced of if we are to have the courage to look for happiness where it truly resides. This requires courage because to fully reside in that place, we must be willing to experience our deepest fears, the full extent of the falseness of our personality, and the multi-dimensional mystery of the human heart.
Looking at each of the personality types as a whole teaches us that the agendas of our egos are ultimately self-defeating. By depending on our personality instead of realizing that our essential nature already contains all that we seek, we fail to achieve our heart’s desire. Each type’s Basic Fear does not go away by attempting to resolve it through the mechanisms of the personality. Twos spend their whole lives searching for love from others and still feel that they unloved. Threes endlessly pursue achievement and recognition and still feel worthless and empty. Fours spend their entire lives trying to discover the meaning of their personal identity and still do not know who they are. Fives endlessly accumulate knowledge and skills to built up their confidence but still feel helpless and incapable. Sixes toil endlessly to create security for themselves and still feel anxious and fearful about the world. Sevens look high and low for happiness still feel unhappy and frustrated. Eights do everything in their power to protect themselves and their interests but still feel vulnerable and threatened. Nines sacrifice a great deal to achieve inner peace and stable but still feel ungrounded and insecure. And finally, Ones strive to maintain personal integrity but still feel divided and at war with themselves. The way out of these self-defeating patterns is to see that they cannot bring us the happiness that we seek. Our personality does not have the power to do so. As wisdom has always recognized, it is only by dying to ourselves—that is, our ego and its strategies—that we find life.
Thus, a related lesson can be drawn from these pages, one which we call the law of psychic economics. It is simply in the nature of the psyche that we inevitably pay a price for every choice we make. Each moment that we live requires a certain amount of mental, emotional, and physical energy. Whenever we choose to spend that energy in an activity, it is energy that cannot be spent on something else. Furthermore, different choices that we make can produce widely different results. An hour spent meditating produces a very different result from an hour spent drink beer and watching television. This is not to say that one is necessarily better than the other, but that they lead to vastly different consequences—which may affect the whole of our lives. Moreover, the price we pay may well not be immediately apparent, which is why we so easily fool ourselves into thinking that there will be no consequences for our actions. But the cost to ourselves is always paid in the kind of person we become. By our choices we create ourselves and shape our future, whether that future is ultimately one of happiness or unhappiness.
How, then, can we go about transcending the ego? What would motivate us to do so? How can we know what will really make us happy?
People always seek what they think will be good for them, even if they turn out to have been mistaken in their choice. Some seek wealth, others fame, others security as each desires to possess that which he or she thinks will bring happiness. But unless we find what is truly good by learning to orient ourselves to with our essential nature, we will likely be sidetracked into the pursuit of our ego’s desires until we completely absorbed by empty substitutes. If we fall into the trance of our personality, we turn the objects of our desires into idols which cannot ultimately satisfy us. Then we suffer and wonder why.
The strange thing is that, as with our search for the meaning of life, we are in the difficult position of searching for what is truly good for us without having a clear understanding of what it might be. Each of the personality types tends to seek what it thinks will be good for it in the wrong places, or in the wrong ways, or both. Twos think that they will be happy if they are loved sufficiently by others; Threes if they are outstanding enough and admired by others; Fours if they are totally free to be themselves, Fives if they can have all the knowledge and skills that they need, Sixes if they have enough security; Sevens if they can experience all they want, Eights if they can completely protect themselves, Nines if they can have total peace of mind, and Ones if they can be perfect enough. If we think about these desires carefully, we see that they will never be able to be satisfied. External conditions will never fulfill these desires in the way that each of the personality types wants. Thus, each type is doomed to endlessly pursue what it can never have. Moreover, all l these strategies fail because they are only partial goods which have been raised to the status of the prime good in life.
How, then, can the Enneagram help us know what is really good for us? The answer is simple: by pointing out that what each personality type genuinely needs lies in its Direction of Integration / Growth.
The difficulty is that before we can move in the Direction of Integration / Growth we must first be able to transcend ourselves. We must be willing and able to go beyond ego to reach out to something more, to some value outside of ourselves.
Self-transcendence is difficult and fearful because it entails going into unknown territory, doing, feeling, and relating in ways foreign to our personality, contrary to our past habits, at odds with our old attitudes and identity, having begun to overcome the handicaps of our childhood. In a sense, it is a kind of rebirth, the coming into being of a new person who is learning to leave the old ways behind and strike out into a new world.
Yet this is precisely what each personality type must do if it is ever to find real happiness. The Two needs to overcome its tendency toward self-deception by moving toward the self-understanding of the healthy Four. The Three needs to overcome its malicious envy of others by moving toward the loyalty and commitment of the healthy Six. The Four needs to overcome its self-destructive subjectivity by moving toward the objectivity and self-discipline of the healthy One. The Five needs to overcome its nihilism by moving toward the courage of the healthy Eight. The Six needs to overcome its suspicion of others by moving toward the receptivity of the healthy Nine. The Seven needs to overcome its impulsiveness by moving toward the involvement of the healthy Five. The Eight needs to overcome its egocentricity by moving toward the concern for others of the healthy Two. The Nine needs to overcome its complacency by moving toward the ambition of the healthy Three. And the One needs to overcome its inflexibility by moving toward the productivity of the healthy Seven.
In the last analysis, learning how to transcend the ego is nothing less than learning how to love. Only love has the power to save us from ourselves. Until we learn to truly love ourselves and others, there can be no hope of lasting happiness or peace or redemption. It is because we do not love ourselves properly that we lose ourselves so easily in the many illusions ego sets before us.
This is what psychology must take into account if it is to become less sterile. After all, Freud's own goal of therapy was to help a person "to work and to love." Present-day psychology seems to have lost sight of how to accomplish this because it has abjured the transcendent, stopped considering values, taken no position on right and wrong, and despaired of teaching others how to live. Unless acquiring the ability to work (and hence to re-create the world) and to love (and hence to re-create the self) becomes one of the main goals of psychology, then it will ultimately be a vain enterprise. Therapeutic techniques can do little lasting good unless they help us toward a recognition of where human fulfillment really lies. About that, the testimony of the greatest human beings who have ever lived bears witness that fulfillment lies in seeking the good beyond oneself.
This is as easy to say as it is difficult to practice. It seems to be part of the human condition for us to learn the most valuable lessons in life the hard way. However, only by suffering from our mistakes does knowledge become our own. Who would believe that happiness lies in the direction of self-transcendence unless he found this out for himself? We seem to need to forget what we require for happiness until we discover the truth for ourselves.
...according to the proverb, 'the longest way round is the shortest way home,' it seems to be necessary to try to discover the secret by going somewhere in order to learn that [you already possess it]. The path always takes you round in a circle, back to the place where you stand. (Alan Watts, The Meaning of Happiness, 119-120)
To put this in terms of the Enneagram, the movement we make in the Direction of Integration / Growth brings us full circle back to ourselves—"the longest way round is the shortest way home." Our truest fulfillment does not lie in the direction of a jealously guarded self but in the direction of self- transcendence as we learn to make room in ourselves for the other. Alan Watts expands on this. He says that even after we have applied all the psychological techniques at our disposal, we are still left unsatisfied because we have been looking in the wrong place for happiness.
There is always something it [psychological technique] leaves unsolved, for there remains a subtle, indefinable and elusive inner discontent. . . . This is truly a 'divine discontent' for I believe it to be what the mystics describe as the yearning of the soul for God; as St. Augustine says, 'Thou hast made us for Thyself, therefore we may not rest anywhere save in Thee.' By a hundred different techniques we can adjust the details of our lives and make ourselves happy in the superficial sense of having nothing specific to be unhappy about. But techniques can only deal with details, with separate parts; something different is required to transform one's attitude to life as a whole, and to transform the whole of one's life. Without this transformation the real unhappiness remains, expressing itself in all manner of disguises, finding innumerable substitutes for God which do not work because they are always partial things. They are, as it were, the parts of God, but not the whole of Him. Techniques can find these parts; it can find acceptance, wealth, pleasure, experience, knowledge, and all the...
unknown realms of the soul. But even when all these many parts are brought together, there is still something which no technical trick or device can discover, and this is the whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. (Ibid., 120-121)
Psychology, self-help books, and the Enneagram cannot save us. They cannot make us genuinely happy or, at any rate, happy for very long because they present partial views of human nature, each groping toward the truth in its own limited way. Of course, psychological insights can help us be more perceptive about what we are afraid of and the regular sources of our unhappiness. Psychology can help us sort out how we behave, what we typically desire, and how much of what we desire leads us into wasteful conflicts and illusions.
Although they are complicated and subtle, the personality types delineated by the Enneagram remain but crude reflections of human nature. While it is valuable to reflect on them to understand ourselves more objectively, using the Enneagram cannot provide us with any ultimate answers about ourselves, since that belongs to another realm. It cannot work magic, nor can it transform us into perfectly realized beings.
But by helping us to understand ourselves as we are, at our best and at our worst, from yet another tradition, the Enneagram reaffirms some age-old insights into human nature. In the end, however, the Enneagram is merely a tool, something useful up to a certain point, whereupon it should be put aside in favor of what cannot be expressed about human nature.
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